The hottest news in animal life right now is a story about “religious” chimpanzees. A group of researchers believes that chimps may be engaging in ritualistic, but seemingly purposeless, stone throwing behaviors. Originally reported in the journal Nature as suggestive evidence that there may be more parallels between human and non-human ritualistic behavior than previously thought, the story has been feverishly touted by news outlets as evidence that chimps “believe in God.”
Ritual, which can include such behavior as tooth brushing, is not necessarily correlated with belief in the supernatural. But religion, in an age and culture that values science and hard data, looks to be chock-full of seemingly purposeless rituals. Hence a new and unfolding hope of our strange modern world: that our primate ancestors can help us prove that there’s nothing more natural for our animal bodies to undertake than seemingly purposeless ritual. This thing we call religion, in other words, is embedded into our evolutionary origins.